Military families live all over the U.S. and, if needed, most of their children receive special needs services in the local early-intervention or school systems. Even if you don’t work in the military system, you likely have worked or will work with children from military families. It’s helpful to understand the military special-education systems and how they relate to on-base schools, the military medical system and the local community. I hope this brief description of military-based early-intervention and school-aged services helps explain these complex systems and what military families navigate daily.
Military families are unique in a variety of ways and if their children require service for special needs, they have unique choices and options. Those options vary depending on whether the family is stationed overseas versus stateside, and whether they live on- or off-base. Military-based special-education programs stateside work only with children living in base housing. Children living off-base receive services from their local public early-intervention programs or school systems.
Eligible children are entitled to services whether or not the family chooses to use them. Military policy says they can receive required services at the base or in the local community, or they reassign the active-duty family member to a base that provides those services. For example, the military won’t send a child with cochlear implants to an overseas base without an audiologist.
Educational and Developmental Intervention Services (EDIS) provides early intervention to children and infants of active-duty service members both overseas and in the U.S. Only certain bases have EDIS programs. If a stateside base lacks an EDIS program, local early intervention programs provide the necessary services both on- and off-base. The military won’t send families with identified needs to bases overseas unless the base offers an EDIS program (which most overseas bases do). Clinics vary, with some providing two or three speech-language pathologists in one clinic and others sharing a traveling SLP among small bases located near one another.
EDIS programs follow the same rules and procedures as state programs, including evaluations, individualized family service plans and transition services. All EDIS programs provide home-based and family-centered treatment. EDIS programs fall under the umbrella of base health systems, so providers have direct access to children’s medical records if they receive care in a military facility. All military families use the same insurance provider, which doesn’t require co-pays or medical coding.
Most EDIS children transition to the Department of Defense Dependent Schools (DoDDS) on base at age 3. The DoDDS follows the child’s IEP just like the community school system. Stateside, only children living on base are eligible for these schools. Families stationed overseas can attend them regardless of where they live. DoDDS follows federal law requirements including IEPs, 504 plans and evaluation schedules.
Because military families move every few years, EDIS programs and DoD schools try to standardize paperwork and procedures—obviously helpful to audiologists, SLPs and other service providers.
So the next time you meet a military family in your professional life, remember that your treatment will start or continue a process that follows the child and family all over the country and world. Help them lay a solid foundation to take with them on their adventures.
Lisa Lunsford, MA, CCC-SLP, has worked for the military for more than 11 years and in early intervention for 20 years. She’s provided treatment in four different states and four different countries. firstname.lastname@example.org